A cracker box filled with
rats; a sports drink mixed with maggots and
sewage fluids; frozen pus on a stick.
To John Kennedy, this is great fun.
Like many others around the country, the
40-year-old Bridgeville resident has discovered
– rediscovered, actually – the joy of collecting
"Wacky Packages," the pop culture-spoofing
trading cards that were popular for a time in
Sold in packs of three, the cards were
send-ups of well-known brand names. Ritz
Crackers became Ratz Crackers and Crest
Toothpaste became Crust, complete with cartoon
images illustrating the products' guttural
(The Morton Salt people didn't appreciate the
Moron Salt parody and was among several
companies to issue cease-and-desist orders
against the Topps trading card company).
As a kid, Kennedy was briefly hooked on the
"My mom would get mad at us for buying them,"
he says. "We would stick them everywhere."
Eventually, the fad faded and he forgot about
Wackys until last year when he bought a new
computer and his brother reintroduced him to the
world of Wacky packs. Today, his enthusiasm is
palpable. An entire wall in his computer is
covered with Wacky paraphernalia, stickers,
cards, posters and other items.
Kennedy isn't alone. Based on eBay listings
and discussion board posts, there seems to be a
good number of adult collectors still enjoying
the World of Wacky Packages.
Individual cards can sell for hundreds of
dollars, and there are at least a dozen Web
sites related to the cards, the most
comprehensive of which may be
www.wackypackages.org, a vast and sprawling page
put together by Greg Grant of State College.
The site contains an stunning amount of
information about the cards, from prices and
availability to accounts of how they were
produced to random things like a phylum that
categorizes the creatues in the Wacky kingdom.
Wackys were first introduced in 1967 at
punchout-style cards that could be licked like
postage stamps to stick around. Those first
cards – with names like Alcohol Seltzer, Slum
Maid Raisins and Fearstone Tires (how prophetic)
– received little notice.
By 1973, however, the jaded world must have
been ready for Wackys, as Topps issued new cards
and sales soared. Really, really soared.
During the late-Nixon years, kids had an
interest in seeing artists from Mad Magazine and
comic books turn Hostess Cakes into Hostage
Cakes and Comet Cleanser recast as Commie
A legend among traders has it that one year,
Wackys actually outsold Topps baseball cards,
The cards caused enough buzz to spur stories
by New York Magazine and the Philadelphia
Inquirer, among others.
The writer for New York noted that "They are
also, in a time when polls show public belief in
institutions at an all-time low, seedling
skepticism in its purest form."
"Today the cards are just humor, but back
then it was rebellion," Kennedy says.
More than a few outraged mothers tossed their
kids' collections in the trash. Not the best way
to treat junior's investment, as today those 5
cent cards are selling for hundreds, a rate of
return far outperforming the Dow.
After a few years, most people, like Kennedy,
forgot about the cards. Topps briefly brought
back the cards in the 1980s and 90s.
The Wacky tradition continued this year, with
Topps introducing the first new series in 13
years, in which Red Bull Energy Drink becomes
Dead Bull and Martha Stewart becomes Martha
Skewered, replete with prison stripes.
The cards may still have the potty humor of
old, but in deference to modern tastes, Topps no
longer issues cards with references to
cigarettes or alcohol. That means no more
"Plastered" Whisky Soaked Peanuts, with scores
of dazed and red-faced peanuts in a jar.
While still marketed to kids, the cards have
a growing grown-up fan base.
"I think people my age are drawn by the art,"
Pulp novel and comic book artist Norm
Saunders painted many of the original cards.
"Saunders was a genius painter with 50 years'
experience, and Wackys were his last great
hoorah," Grant writes.
Mad Magazine contributors Stan Hart and Jay
Lynch did many of the rough drawings for Wacky
Packs. Lynch still contributes and has been
featured on radio recently talking about the
So for Kennedy, when will his Wacky
collection be sufficient?
"I think every collector's goal is to have
every complete set, but that may be impossible,"